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Report Says Stalled Security Leaves U.S. Open to Terrorism

By Vicki Kemper
LOS ANGELES TIMES -- WASHINGTON

Enormous logistical challenges and widespread complacency have stalled homeland security efforts, leaving the United States “dangerously unprepared to prevent and respond” to another terrorist attack, an independent task force warns in a new report.

Yet the Bush administration’s preparations for war against Iraq only increase the likelihood of an attack against Americans involving weapons of mass destruction, according to the 17-member bipartisan group, which includes two Nobel laureates, two former secretaries of state and two former chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

“If our foreign policy requires that action be taken against Iraq, we have to be prepared for retaliation,” said former Sen. Warren B. Rudman, co-chairman of the task force, which was sponsored by the nonpartisan Council on Foreign Relations.

The group’s report, to be released Friday, recommends immediate action to better secure the nation’s ports, roads and railways. While intensive security measures have been implemented at airports since last year’s terrorist attacks, “a weapon of mass destruction could well be hidden” in shipping containers, trucks and trains, the report says.

Government officials also must redouble their efforts to prepare police, fire and emergency medical personnel to respond to a bioterrorist attack and to better link local, state and federal authorities, the report says. In addition, it says National Guard units should be trained and deployed to impose civil order in the aftermath of such an attack.

While the creation of a new Department of Homeland Security has stalled over disagreements between President Bush and Democratic leaders in Congress, task force members were careful to avoid assessing blame for what they consider a dangerous lack of progress in homeland security efforts.

“There is a serious lack of urgency about moving on homeland security in some areas that do not require legislation,” former Sen. Gary Hart, the task force’s other co-chairman, said in an interview. “The president and congressional leaders could have taken some of these steps months ago. We are urging them to get on with it.”

Rudman also called on governors, mayors and other local officials to get more involved in homeland security efforts.

Hart, a Democrat from Colorado, and Rudman, a New Hampshire Republican, have been calling for similar actions since months before terrorist hijackers flew commercial airliners into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a Pennsylvania field last Sept. 11, killing about 3,000 people.

An earlier commission led by the two men warned in January 2001 that the nation was vulnerable to a terrorist attack. It recommended then that the federal government be reorganized around a homeland security mission.